Dating old buildings

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(this page contains the substance of an article entitled 'Traditional Cut Nails - worth preserving?

' written in May 2002 at the request of, and for inclusion in, the RICS Building Conservation Journal)For nail making, iron ore was heated with carbon to form a dense spongy mass of metal which was then fashioned into the shape of square rods and left to cool. After re-heating the rod in a forge, the blacksmith would cut off a nail length and hammer all four sides of the softened end to form a point.

While it is possible to get a blacksmith today to produce a handmade nail from wrought iron, the cost can be prohibitive and the blacksmith is not keen to devote his limited time to making such small products.

However, almost a century after their predicted demise, there are still two cut nail manufacturers worldwide in existence employing the process that is almost 200 years old and using machines that have barely changed in design in that time.

Pursue every lead to the bitter end, and you still won't uncover the entire truth.

But you will be able to prove some things - and claim the distinction of being a true History Detective.

The result is that these cut nails are often mistaken for handmade nails.

In use, the rosehead is often the only part of the nail that is left visible and this shape of head is now considered vital when a period nail is demanded.

In Tudor times, we have evidence that the nail shape had not changed at all as can be seen by the nails found preserved in a barrel of tar on board the 'Mary Rose' - the Tudor flag ship of Henry VIII built in 1509 and recovered from the mud of the Solent in 1982.Wire nails will be found in a building put up in the period from then to date.For the restorer, it is vital that the correct raw materials are used in any attempt to preserve an old building. The restorer is looking to use similar nails to ensure the authenticity of the restored building. The inquiry will have two stages: Investigation and Corroboration. Investigation Tracking down clues directly connected with the physical structure, architecture, or construction.But don't overlook trace evidence of daily life, relationships, and events on site or nearby.

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